Gov. Larry Hogan is doing some twists and turns on withholding money that the Legislature insisted he spend on the state's public education system, while rewarding private schools with taxpayer funds. His claim that he won't play politics with the budget is ringing pretty hollow these days.
/By Johnathon W.G.Williams / The Situation: Currently the state is seeing a political game of morality between the Democratic-led legislature and Gov. Larry Hogan. All of this is going on while the state's revenue is lagging behind its projections for the second year in a row. Last Wednesday, August 10th,2016, Gov. Hogan through his budget chief stated that he would not spend $80 million the General Assembly authorized him to use this year for three specific priorities; reducing violence, renovating older schools, and funding public school employees’ pensions. After the budget was adopted this spring, several officials projected a $360 million surplus. Therefore, this is a major head scratcher as the governor has yet to release a new estimate that would shed light on his recent decision. The only defense from Gov. Hogan has been that the legislature tried to force him to spend all the $80 million or none at all. The process of the legislature to redirect specific authorized funds from the governor’s budget proposal is not new or illegal. Under the Maryland Constitution, the only thing the legislature cannot do is add to the governor's budget-- it can only cut money or request it be spent elsewhere. This is exactly what the Democratic-led Assembly legislated, feeling the moral obligation to redirect money to projects that would help the residents in Montgomery and Prince George counties such as restoring school buildings.
The Budget Breakdown
Gov. Hogan has been very vocal in saying “I will not play politics with the budget items and the legislature tactic of fencing off dollars for critical programs.”
As Gov. Hogan plays politics, we are only left with few facts on how the budget will break down. Out of the $173 million with $80 million being fenced off as part of the allocation of discretionary funds the legislature approved to Gov. Hogan and his administration, officials stated they would spend $75 million, mostly for infrastructure. Might I add that again this does not include the $80 million the legislature “fenced off” preventing Gov. Hogan from spending any amount of the fenced off $80 million if he didn't spend it all. Due to this Gov. Hogan did what he said he disliked – he played politics and decided to not fund several key projects that would impact 21 out of the 23 counties in Maryland. Gov. Hogan chose not to fund $6.1 million for the state's restoration schools program, which intended to only fund projects within the $10,000-$300,000 range. Among the other projects that will not be funded, what's probably the most controversial is the $19 million to fund local public school employees’ pensions. Gov. Hogan opted to give $5 million to private schools for scholarships instead, resulting in Baltimore’s Safe Streets program to reduce violence losing its allotted $1 million. If you do the math, Gov. Hogan chose to redirect $30.2 million to other less prioritized projects rather than fund the three major priorities of the fenced general assembly money for this specific year.
Let's rewind. Gov. Hogan refused to spend $80 million this year to reduce violence, fund teacher pensions, and renovate older schools all because the legislature dedicated money for these issues. It leaves one to wonder if Gov. Hogan is a hypocrite and doing the exact same thing in fencing off money for the 21 out of Maryland's 23 counties affected by this decision. With a swift response, the ACLU and the state teachers union (MSEA) issued a press release calling on Hogan to withhold the $5 million for private schools or to use it for public school purposes.
Senator Rich Madaleno (D-Montgomery-District 18) joined ACLU of Maryland and the more than 72,000 educators of the Maryland State Education Association (MSEA) in calling on Gov. Hogan to withhold $5 million set aside for private school vouchers. The groups asked to send the $5 million in taxpayer dollars to public schools to offset some of the damage from the cuts made earlier last week. Sen. Madaleno explained “If the state of Maryland cannot afford to spend taxpayer dollars on fixing aging school buildings and preventing class size increases, we certainly cannot afford to help subsidize tuition for those who are already enrolled in private schools... Budgets are about priorities, and it’s disappointing that the governor is choosing to siphon funding from public schools to help private schools.”
This is the second consecutive year that Gov. Hogan has decided to withhold or better yet “fence off” school funding despite having projected budget surpluses. Last year, Hogan refused to allot $68 million passed in a bipartisan budget aimed for thirteen counties that saw increased class sizes, eliminated educator positions, and cut programs. This year, he held back $30 million in funding that would have supported the restoration of older school facilities and helped counties pay for educator pensions without cutting funding levels for classroom instruction. For a governor who says he dislikes playing politics with budget items, it seems that is exactly what he is doing; and the result is going to ultimately hurt all 21 out of the 23 Maryland counties with their bond ratings .
Johnathon W.G. Williams, an immediate past intern at Progressive Maryland, is a master’s degree candidate at George Mason University focusing on emergency management and homeland security. He is from Charlotte, N.C